The subject of bid’ah elucidated

Here is an excerpt from Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio on the subject of innnovation taken from his ihya ul sunnah:

An Explanation of the Scope of Innovation and the Proofs of the Obligation to Avoid It; Its Divisions, What is Acceptable From It and What is Unacceptable

The Scope of Innovation (al-bid`a`):

The scope of innovation, is as Abu’l-Hassan as-Saghir said, “It is that which deviates from the Book, the sunna and the Consensus.”

Al-Faakihaani said, “Strictly speaking, it is invented matters in the deen which appear as though it is from the deen, but it is not in actuality from it.”

Ahmad az-Zaruuq said in his Umdat ‘l-Murid as-Saadiq,

“The reality of innovation according to the shari`a are invented matters in the deen that resemble the deen and look like they are from it, but are actually not from it. This is regardless if this resemblance to the deen is by form (bi ‘l-suura) or by meaning (bi ‘l-haqiqa).

This is in accordance with the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, `Every invented thing is an innovation, and every innovation is an error.’

The scholars, may Allah be pleased with them, have explained that the meaning of the above mentioned tradition refers to the altering of the judgment (of the shari`a) based on the conviction that which is not in reality within the realm of the deen, to consider it as apart of it.

However, this does not include all invented matters in general, especially when the shari`a encompasses it within its principles. In that case it is attributed to the shari`a.”

The realized ones (al-muhaqqiquun) have said, “Some innovation has been included among the branches of the shari`a, with regard to invented matters in general and as far as language is concerned. Pertaining to this is the words of Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, regarding the matter of the supererogatory night prayers of Ramadhan (at-taraaweeh), “This innovation is a benefit.” He called it an innovation (al-bid`a`) with respect to the form in which it had been established. Otherwise it is a sunna owing to the fact that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, did it three nights in Ramadhan during his life-time.

Its performance was established by the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Truly I was afraid that you would make it obligatory upon yourselves.” Thus he indicated the occasion in order that the permanence of the judgment would be known at the time of the lifting of the judgment, as was established by Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, with the consensus from the Companions in accepting it.”

If you were to say, “How can reprehensible innovation (al-bid`a` ‘l-makruuh) be an error (dalaala) when reprehensible actions from one respect is permissible (al-jaa’iz); seeing that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had delivered a judgment that every innovation is an error?” I say, that Ahmad az-Zaruuq said in his Umdat ‘l-Murid as-Saadiq, [s”It is possible to do reprehensible deeds, while inventing it is forbidden because it amounts to making legal decisions against the decisions of the Lawgiver and going beyond what he has established.”

The Proofs of the Obligation of Avoiding Innovation:

As for the proofs of the obligation of avoiding innovation, realize, and may Allah make you and us successful, that the proofs of the obligation of avoiding innovation are the same proofs for the obligation of following the sunna. This is because the ordering of a thing in effect prohibits its opposite. That which will suffice in that is the words of Allah ta`ala, “This is my straight path, so follow it. And do not follow other divergent ways, lest you be parted from His way.”

Ibn Mas`ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, one day drew a line in front of us. He then drew some lines on his right and some lines on his left. He then said, ‘This is my path and these are divergent ways. And upon everyone of these ways there is a devil who calls to them.’ I believe he said, ‘From among mankind.’ He meant by that ‘from the people of innovation’ (ahlu ‘l-bid`a`). Then he recited this verse, ‘This is my straight path’, meaning the single line, ‘so follow it. And do not follow other divergent ways’, meaning the lines on his right and left, ‘lest you be parted from His way’.”

Al-Mujahid and Zaid ibn Aslam said, “His straight path is Islam and the sunna; and the divergent ways are innovation and corrupt passions.” That which will also suffice you in that is the words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Whoever introduces into this matter of ours that which is not from it, will be rejected.” This was related by al-Bukhari and Muslim .

Al-Ishbili said in his commentary upon the al-Arba`een an-Nawawiyya, (which for the most part discusses the meaning of the above tradition), “This tradition is an important principle (qaa`ida) from the fundamentals of the deen. It is also from among the comprehensive speech (jawaami`i kalim) of the Chosen Prophet which he was given, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. That is, that it is straightforward in its rejection of every innovation and invention which is not in accordance with the fundamental principles of the shari`a.” He then said, “The author (meaning an-Nawawi) mentioned that in Muslim there is an additional tradition which is considered good (hassan) meaning by that the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Whoever does an act which is not in accordance with our matter, then it is rejected.” That is, that some of the perpetrators might cling stubbornly to an innovation which others had invented before them, and this tradition is brought as a proof against them. Meaning by that the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Whoever invents something in this matter of ours which is not from it, will be rejected.” Then the perpetrators might say, “I have not invented anything.” Then the other additional narration which is related in Muslim should be brought as a proof against them. And it is the words of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “Whoever does an act which is not in accordance with our matter, then it is rejected.” For that is the clearest way to answer every person who invents matters in the deen – regardless if he be the inventor himself or if someone invented it before him.”

He then said, “It is necessary for you to memorize this tradition, circulate it and utilize it in thwarting reprehensible actions.” The author of al-Ifsaah said concerning the above tradition, “It is understood in this from a jurisprudential point of view that whoever invents something in the deen which is not from it, is then rejected; meaning it is returned to him and not accepted from him.”

And his saying, “. . .that which is not from it. . .”, means that which is disapproved from it. As for the derivatives of the foundations (tafree`’l-usuul) which emerge from it, they are not included in the things to be rejected – like [1] the writing down of the Qur’an in book form, [2] the madh’habs which have been established upon the best reflection of the fuqaha who exercise independent judgment (mujtahid) by tracing their branches back to the sayings of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace; [3] the composed books on the subject of grammar, arithmetic, the obligations and other than these from the sciences which find its origin and are built upon the teachings and orders of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

For none of the above sciences are included among the things which the above tradition rejects. His saying, “Whoever does an act which is not in accordance with our matter. . .”, this means our judgments and our permission, ” . . .then it is rejected”, meaning it shall be returned back to him and it will not be rewarded.”

The Divisions of Innovation:

As for the divisions of innovation, al-Qaraafi said,

” It is in five divisions.

The first division is that which is obligatory (waajib) according to consensus. It is that which encompasses the fundamental principles of obligation and takes its proofs from the shari`a – like the recording of the Qur’an and the principles of the shari`a out of fear that these would be lost. Verily delivering the above to those who will come after us is an obligation according to consensus. And neglecting to do so is forbidden according to consensus. In this type of innovation there is no way that there can be disagreement concerning its obligation.

The second division is that which is forbidden (muharram) according to consensus. It is that which encompasses the fundamental principles of prohibition and takes its proofs from the shari`a – like taxes, giving preference of those who are ignorant over those who are scholars, and appointing religious post to those who are not suitable for them by means of inheritance, and making the support for that the fact that it was the place of his father, while he himself is not qualified for that.

The third division is that which is recommended (manduub). It is what encompasses the fundamental principles of recommendation and takes its proofs from the shari`a – like the taraaweeh prayer, the establishment of the distinctive stature of the Imams, judges and those who possess authority – although this was contrary to what the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, did. The reason for this being that the aim and the welfare of the deen cannot occur except by establishing the pre-eminence of the government in the hearts of the people. People during the time of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, had innate magnitude and this magnitude was the deen. This continued until the proper order of government became defective and the generation of the Companions passed away. Then a generation appeared that did not attach greatness to government except by outward appearance. So emphasizing the outward appearance became incumbent, in order that the overall welfare could be maintained.

The fourth division is that which is reprehensible (makruuh). It is what encompasses the fundamental principles of reprehensibility and takes its proofs from the shari`a – like specifying certain days for blessings and others with certain kinds of worship. From that category is the increase in the fixed recommended acts; like the invocations of Sub’hanna Allahi thirty- three times, Al-hamdu lillahi thirty-three times, and Allahu akbar thirty-three times at the end of every obligatory prayer. He then does more than the limit which was established by the Lawgiver. This is reprehensible because of what is in it regarding going beyond what the Lawgiver prescribed and showing lack of correct courtesy (adab) towards him. The condition of holding something in importance is when a thing is prescribed – to stop with it, while to revert to
leaving its limits is lack of correct courtesy (qillatu adab).

The fifth division is that which is permitted (mubaah). It is that which encompasses the fundamental principles of permissibility and takes its proofs from the shari`a – like the utilization of sieves and agricultural tools for the improvement of livelihood, the wearing of beautiful clothing, the adopting of nice homes and other things.

The author of the al-Isttifa’u said, “Innovation is that which did not exist during the time of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.”

Ibn Abd’s-Salaam said,

“Among these innovations are those which are obligatory (waajibat) like the preliminary sciences to understanding the Book of Allah and the sunna of His Messenger – such as grammar (nahwa), eloquence (bayaan) and the like. This is because the preservation of the shari`a cannot be achieved except by these. An obligation which cannot be achieved except by something, makes that thing also obligatory.

Among these innovations are those which are forbidden (muharramat) like the sect of the Jabriyya who say that created things have no power at all; or the sect of the Murjiyya who say eternal punishment is for the disbelievers only. Opposing them by guarding the shari`a from their heretical innovation is a collective obligation (fard kifaya).

Among these innovations are those which are highly recommended (manduuba) like the taraaweeh prayers, the building of military garrisons (ribaats), and the doctrines regarding the minute details of the science of sufism.

Among these innovations are those which are allowable (mubaaha) like shaking hands after the subh and asr prayers, taking delight in the most delicious of foods, drinks, clothing and homes; and the widening of the sleeves of the garments.

What is Unacceptable and What is Acceptable in Innovation:

As for that in which there is disapproval (al-inkaar) and that in which there is approval (laa yunkar) from innovation, realize and may Allah make us and you successful – that it as like what Shaykh Izzadeen ibn Abd’s-Salaam said, “Disapproval or objection is related to that in which there is unanimous agreement concerning its obligation or prohibition. Whoever leaves that in which there is a difference of opinion concerning its obligation or performs and act in which there is a difference of opinion concerning its prohibition, (while he is following some of the scholars in that), then there is no objection to that, except if he is following him in an issue whose legal judgment has been repealed.”

I say, it is based upon this that it is not permissible for you to disapprove of the innovation of anyone except if you are aware that the action is from among those innovations which are forbidden by consensus of opinion. What we mean by objection in this context is the prohibited objection. Further, if it can be objected to – then that objection should be done with sincerity and guidance which is simply giving good advice and excellent deeds.

The exact wording of the reply of Izzadeen ibn Abd’s-Salaam concerning the divisions of innovation is, “All praises are due to Allah, realize that innovations are different varieties. The first variety are those which the shari`a has proved to be highly recommended (manduub), or obligatory (waajib) – but which had not been done during the first era. This variety is approved innovation (bid`a`tu hassana). The second variety are those which the shari`a has proved to be forbidden (tahreem), or reprehensible (karaahat), along with it not being previously done during the first era. This variety is abominable innovation (bid`a`tu qabeeha). The third variety are those which the shari`a has proven to be allowable (ibaahat) along with it not being previously done during the first era. This variety is allowable innovation (bid`a`tu mubaahat).”

It is mentioned in the Takhlees ‘l-Ikhwaan, “Take close notice, my brothers, and may Allah guide you – of the above reply and behave in accordance with it. Be watchful of your Lord, do not enter into matters except by Him or for Him and make your desires subservient to the shari`a. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Neither one of you truly believes until his desires are subservient to what I have came with.’ If you do not intend by your actions the continence of Allah, you will exhaust yourselves and exhaust others.”

Also in the Takhlees ‘l-Ikhwaan just before the above words it says, “O my brother! May Allah guide you – be in opposition to heretical innovation and make a distinction between that which is abominable (in order to object to it) and between that which is approved (in order not to object to it). This is so that you may be safe with your Lord from being associated with objectionable things by only objecting to that which is clearly objectionable. For whoever objects to that which it is not permissible to object to, it is as though he had done the same objectionable act he was attempting to prohibit or even worse. For this reason I have tried to relate in this book the differences of opinion in order that you may avoid objecting to that in which there is a difference of opinion. This is because objecting to that is also objectionable and is not permissible. I have cautioned you about this because some of you have claimed that you are only prohibiting against innovation and reprehensible deeds. For this reason I wished to clearly stipulate that to you, so that the most knowledgeable among you can change.”

Also in the Takhlees ‘l-Ikhwaan just before the above words it says, “So take notice, may Allah be merciful to you, of the divisions of innovation and preserve it carefully in your memory that you may realize not every innovation is objectionable. Rather, it is as you have seen. There are those which are highly recommended (mustahaba) in which there is reward for it. There are those which are allowable (mubaaha) in which there is neither reward or punishment. There are those which are obligatory (waajiba) in which there is reward for discharging it and punishment for it being neglected. There are those which are reprehensible (markup) in which there is reward for leaving it and there is no punishment for doing it.”

If you were to say, “Keeping away from the companion of forbidden innovation (al-bid`a al-muharrama) is unanimously agreed upon. Is it then permitted to keep away from the companion of reprehensible innovation (al-bid`a al-makru`uh) as well?” I say: that the reply is as it is said in the Takhlees ‘l-Ikhwaan, “The most obvious meaning of the message is fleeing from perpetrating it. This is made clear by his words, ‘The keeping away which is permissible is the keeping away from the heretical innovator’.”

Abu’l-Hassan al-Maliki says in his Tahqiq’l-Mubaani narrating from al-Faakihani; “There is a difference of opinion regarding what the Shaykh intended here. It is said that he meant forbidden innovation (bid`a muharrama) and it is said he meant that which is reprehensible (makruuh).” Then he said, “Al-Faakihani said, `In keeping away from the person who commits reprehensible innovation, I have a view: Is it permissible to keep away from the perpetrator or not?’.”

Here ends the explanation of the boundaries of innovation and the proofs of the obligation to avoid it, its divisions, what is objectionable from it and what is not objectionable.

O Allah! make us successful at following the Sunna of Your Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, by his standing with You!

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